Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10: 255–266, 1998.
A slot-ﬁlling model of sentence comprehension
National Chung-Cheng University, Chia-Yi, Taiwan; National Taiwan University, Taipei,
Abstract. This study investigated how a person comprehends a subject-verb-object (SVO)
sentence. In two experiments subjects comprehended sentences to form unitary representa-
tions in a sentence-picture veriﬁcation task. Reference scope (superordinates or subordinates)
and location of superordinates were manipulated. Both effects of reference scope and location
of superordinates were obtained. These ﬁndings support a slot-ﬁlling model of sentence com-
prehension in which subjects successively create a slot for ﬁlling the previously integrated unit
in comprehending a sentence. The slot-ﬁlling model should apply to comprehending English
as well as Chinese sentences.
Key words: Location of superordinates, Reference scope, Sentence comprehension, Sentence-
picture veriﬁcation, Slot ﬁlling
C.K. Leong & K. Tamaoka (eds.), Cognitive Processing of the Chinese
and the Japanese Languages, pp. [101–112]
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
In processing sentences, recent research tends to show that both syntactic
and semantic strategies are essential (e.g., Ferreira & Clifton 1986; Frazier &
Rayner 1987; Marslen-Wilson 1987; Rayner, Carlson & Frazier 1983; Tara-
ban & McClelland 1988, Tyler & Marslen-Wilson 1977). With respect to the
problem of how syntax and semantics interact during sentence processing, it
may be concluded that syntactic strategies play the central role in forming
constituents, whereas semantic strategies play the central role in integrating
The process of integrating sentence constituents is also captured by the
notion of slot ﬁlling in conceptual combination (e.g., Cohen & Murphy 1984;
Medin & Shoben 1988; Murphy 1988; Smith & Osherson 1984). The process
of conceptual combination involves determining how two or more concepts
ﬁt together to form a new concept. Some conceptual combination models pro-
pose a type of slot ﬁlling as the primary mechanism for combining concepts.
According to these models, one combines two concepts by ﬁlling a slot in
one concept (which is called the head concept) with the other concept (which
is called the predicate concept). For instance, to comprehend ‘large box’, one
ﬁnds a slot in ‘box’ (i.e., the size slot) that can be ﬁlled by the concept ‘large’.
Wisniewski and Gentner (1991) cited an unpublished study by
Wisniewski, in which it was found that people more quickly understood
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